New research from Cargill finds consumers want the best of both worlds—indulgence and health—and they’re willing to pay more for baked goods that deliver on both attributes.   

The Sweet Delight–Decoding Consumer Bakery Decisions research surveyed 1,200 U.S. consumers to understand the unmet needs and motivations that drive consumer purchase behaviors related to cakes, pastries, and cookies. The proprietary study not only looked at what consumers say they do but revealed the why behind their purchase decisions, including their expectations around textures, packaging claims, ingredients, and more. 

“At Cargill, we understand that consumer insights help ensure we’re bringing innovation solutions to our customers that help them keep and attract new customers in a competitive environment,” says Camiel van Beek, bakery category leader for Cargill’s global edible oil solutions group. “Across our food ingredient businesses, we’ve embraced this new way of innovating, helping our food manufacturer customers develop products that meet consumers’ unmet needs.”

Among its findings, the Cargill research confirmed indulgence remains the most important purchase trigger for cake, pastry, and cookie purchases, outweighing barriers such as weight gain, and health or diet considerations. More than half (54%) of those surveyed said they chose bakery products to satisfy cravings, while 44% admitted they purchased them as a reward. 

Other aspects of the study explored the influence of ingredient lists, nutritional information, and package claims on consumers’ bakery purchases. Highlighting the continuing importance of label-friendly formulation, the research found consumers viewed ingredients as most influential to their purchase decision (42%), over nutrition scores (39%) and specific product claims (28%). 

"The beauty of this study is it helps us understand the ingredients consumers are drawn to for each platform," says Jana Mauck, global bakery category marketing manager for edible oils, Cargill. "For products in the premium indulgence space, they’re looking for ingredients like butter that signal creamy, decadent textures. In the better-for-you platform, it’s much more about what functional ingredients are included in the formulation (things like protein, fiber, or omega-3s. Those ingredients provide a mental cue to consumers that the product will be better for them. However, they still expect these baked goods to taste great."

That’s not to say, however, that consumers aren’t interested in baked goods with nutrition profiles they perceive as healthier. Rather, the research revealed health-related attributes registered as some of consumers’ biggest unmet needs, spanning desires for products that delivered portion control, balanced great taste and health, supplied energy boosts without sugar crashes, and offered greater satiety, especially in the cookie and pastry space.

The research also identified the most promising innovation platforms to meet those unfilled desires. By looking at both purchase drivers and consumers’ willingness to pay more, Cargill found three top benefit/innovation platforms emerged: Fresh from the Oven, Premium Indulgence, and Better for You. In each opportunity space, significant numbers of consumers said they would accept higher prices. 

Modeling techniques then helped discern the key textures, claims, and ingredients associated with each platform that would motivate consumers to make final purchases. For example, when it comes to Premium Indulgence in cakes, key claims consumers associate with these products are “all-natural,” “no artificial ingredients and “traceable ingredients.” Key textures that resonate are rich, creamy, and buttery while leading ingredients include cocoa powder and butter.

“This research gives us very specific insights and will help us deliver a more focused innovation roadmap for our customers,” van Beek says. “With it, we can help customers match consumer preferences around textures, claims, and ingredients by application and even daypart, then leverage our ingredient and application expertise to develop products that will resonate in the marketplace.”

Cargill’s inaugural bakery insights consumer study joins a growing portfolio of proprietary market-focused research it uses to identify the trends, behaviors, attitudes, and motivations shaping the food and beverage landscape. The company then leverages these insights, along with its deep application and ingredient expertise, to help customers tailor product development goals, ingredient choices, and formulations to capitalize on market opportunities and meet consumer needs.